Many people take for granted that they have somewhere to call home: a safe place for your children to play inside when the summer sun is burning hot, and to celebrate their birthdays and graduations; a clean, cool place to eat your meals; a place to store your possessions and family treasures passed down through generations; a place to mourn the passing of loved ones; a comfortable place to sleep at night. But for the thousands of people on the verge of eviction or foreclosure, it’s a question that weighs heavily on their minds every day. Losing your home at any point can be traumatic, but to be rendered homeless in the middle of a global health pandemic would be catastrophic to families, communities, and to our state as a whole.
Gov. Tom Wolf moved last week to extend the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, originally set to expire July 10, through Aug. 31. We are glad he has done that, and we call on him to continue that extension until at least Dec. 31.
City and state governments have taken steps to help people keep a roof over their heads, including the $175 million in relief for homeowners and renters, and temporary eviction and foreclosure moratoriums.
However, public health predictions indicate that COVID-19 will continue to take a toll on our families and economy well into next year. Our elected officials need to plan for that scenario. We need to do everything possible to make sure people have a roof over their heads next week, then next month, and beyond. As part of this path forward, we must provide additional relief to renters and homeowners, and make sure the financial weight is not disproportionately placed on mom-and-pop landlords who still have bills to pay.
Families are struggling with months of unemployment; financial uncertainty about whether they can afford housing, food, clothing, and supplies for their children; the serious health risks of COVID-19; and the absence and uncertainty of child care and schooling. This all comes on top of the financial challenges that many Pennsylvanians faced before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, including housing instability and high health-care costs.
As our country grapples with legacies of systemic racism, as well as the devastating impacts that COVID-19 has had on Black and brown communities in particular, what unites us now is that we all deserve a home. Housing remains our best form of protection, health, and safety, and is our surest path toward reaching any measure of stability, equity, and liberation.
It will take a long time for many people to recover financially from the hit they took during the past four months. Many people were already living paycheck to paycheck. Low-wage workers and others who have not been able to work from home will need to grapple with the transition back to a steady income, and all that comes along with inconsistent bus routes and child care.
Unfortunately, without intervention and assistance, our neighbors will face foreclosure and eviction on a dramatic scale. Experts estimate 28 million people nationwide are in danger of being evicted from their homes due to COVID-19, nearly three times the number of people who lost their homes in the Great Recession. An extension through at least December will give homeowners and renters the time to apply for financial relief programs; to plan, to earn, and to save money; and hopefully for our government to offer a six-month plan that meets the immense housing needs of all people across Pennsylvania. It is clear that, given the stakes, we need to do much more.
Rasheedah Phillips is the managing attorney of housing policy at Community Legal Services. Elizabeth Fiedler is a Pennsylvania state representative for South Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.